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Depending on their knowledge and skills, volunteers can play a variety of roles in school-based dental sealant programs. Volunteer dentists and dental hygienists can provide the clinical skills needed to conduct assessments and apply dental sealants. Non-clinical volunteers can perform administrative functions.

When school is not in session, school-based dental sealant programs may continue to operate at sites where child-centered programs or organizations are located, such as day camps, child care centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, or faith-based programs. To operate at such sites, school-based dental sealant program administrators need to establish relationships with the individuals in charge of these types of programs or organizations.

Staff can also use school breaks to complete administrative activities, arrange introduction and planning appointments with school personnel, meet with community partners, order and organize supplies, manage and maintain equipment, work on program-evaluation activities, and complete continuing-education requirements.

Challenges with Working with Volunteers

While using volunteers can be an effective way to engage the local oral health community, some potential drawbacks need to be considered. First, volunteers’ commitment to the school-based dental sealant program may wane after a period of time, leaving the program without a full complement of staff. Second, Medicaid billing and reimbursement issues may arise with volunteer oral health professionals. For example, if the program and the volunteer oral health professionals are not enrolled as Medicaid providers, reimbursement cannot be recouped for services provided. Depending on program funding, this may or may not affect program sustainability. Read more about applying to become a Medicaid provider.

Several issues should be carefully considered before bringing on volunteer staff. All volunteer staff need training on specific program protocols, including infection control and privacy and confidentiality. Providing training and monitoring compliance with program protocols is time-consuming and requires vigilance, which can affect the efficiency and effectiveness of the program. This can be especially problematic if there is a high turnover rate among volunteers

Developing a working relationship with volunteer oral health professionals can also be time-consuming. For example, volunteer dentists and dental hygienists may not agree with the school-based dental sealant program’s assessment process (e.g., using dull explorers or illumination, not taking X-rays), making it difficult to calibrate the need for placing dental sealants. They may want to use a sealant-application technique that differs from the technique used by the school-based dental sealant program (e.g., opening fissures before placing the sealant). Because many volunteer dentists and dental hygienists come from the private sector, training them to deliver care in a public health setting can be challenging. In addition, credentialing volunteer oral health professionals can be time-consuming and costly.